In the corner of Dan Tandarich’s fourth grade classroom at P.S. 124 in Brooklyn, hangs a colorful poster by an artist named Jim Lee. Tandarich said the poster originally stirred controversy, not because of its artist or its artistic value but because of the subject. The poster features the X-Men, a band of teenage mutants who are ostracized for their unique abilities even though they are determined to use them to defend humanity monthly titles in multiple titles published by Marvel Comics.


The X-Men, by Jim Lee

“I figured these are literary characters that people would be excited about, especially the students,” Tandarich said. “But it really seemed to take a lot of justifying just to have this in the actual classroom along with student work and everything else up there.”

The 30-year-old said the poster, which is still hanging four years later, is symbolic of his initial attempts to get his idea for an after-school program taken seriously.

“Once it’s explained and once, I think, they see that there are actual lessons, actual goals, there’s actual learning involved with the comic books, the rest is easy, just like everything else. So everything’s been going well ever since.”

[Video segment]

Tandarich is a member of the New York City Comic Book Museum and the founder of a program called C.O.M.I.C.S.: Challenging Objective Minds: An Instructional Comic book Series, which brings comic books into the classroom.

Tandarich said the interplay between words and art make comics a perfect tool to improve reading comprehension.

“I know students and adults even that have talked to me about having dyslexia, and they have said, ‘well, I couldn’t read the story, but the pictures really helped me cement that okay, I can still follow the story along with the illustrations,’” he said. “I think it’s a great effect, a combination of words and illustrations. I don’t see why that’s just not used more often in class.”

While he maintained that he is not a skeptic about comic books being used in schools, Charles Hatfield of Cal State pointed out that comic books are still different from other forms of literature though.

“It’s clear that comics have a high level of appeal to the non-traditional readers,” said Hatfield. “They can be used as an aid to literacy, but it’s also true that there are differences between reading comics and reading sustained passages of prose.”

According to Tandarich, between 40 and 50 schools throughout the world are looking for something different and that has led them to his program.

“We’ve had people from Ireland and California. They’re all over the place,” said Tandarich. “I’m surprised, Australia, just by the fact that they search the web and we get these e-mails inquiring about this curriculum.”


      Fantastic Four #60 -- the first comic book used with the C.O.M.I.C.S. curriculum          


During one class, Tandarich picked out a secondary story from Amazing Fantasy #15 from 1962 to use as a learning tool. This issue is famous for featuring the origin and first appearance of Spider-Man, but Tandarich chose a short about Martians.

His students sat on a grey carpet as he passed out photocopies of the story. As soon as all the packets were handed out, many of the kids were quick to point out that the story began with a splash page, a single scene that filled the entire page. The kids took pride in showing off their knowledge of the medium.

Tandarich then began the story aloud. As he read the first line, the children quickly joined-in. They followed his reading and inflected their voices and accentuated phrases to match Tandarich’s own reading style.


Amazing Fantasy #15

When they reached the end, they realized their packets did not include the final page. Instead, their teacher went around the room and asked each student to draw his or her own conclusion about how this story would end.

“I’ll start a story and have it end on a cliffhanger, so the students can get used to a hole, a to-be-continued aspect: how are you going to get the hero out this time?” Tandarich said. “It’s not always going to be written in a text book for you to get the answer.”

When the children finished telling him how they thought the story would end, he passed out the last page. The children loved it and Tandarich said he believes they get excited because “it’s something they want to do as opposed to independent reading.”


[photo still pulled from video, of Tandarich's class]



Lucy Caswell of Ohio State said the ability of a comic to hold children’s attention is not her concern as much as the educational value and the appropriateness of their content.

“The way many women are depicted and the graphic violence in a lot of comic books really turns off an awful lot of people,” said Caswell. “I think the concern is somewhat justifiable. I mean some of these, the covers are just, you know, they’re not particularly appealing to moms of an awful lot of kids—moms and dads.”


Witchblade published by Image Comics
The Darkness published by Image Comics  

Tandarich said he agrees many comic books are inappropriate for children, which is why he uses many comics from the 1960s and 1970s, comics that are more appropriate for his students’ age levels.


“A lot of the stuff I bring in is like 10 to 20 years old…it’s more sanitized,” said Tandarich. “I’m very picky. You have to control the material you take in. Just like novels, you read certain books beforehand, before you give it to a child. It’s all controlled.”

During the second half of the hour-long class, the children returned to their desks and directed their attention to creating their own characters. Tandarich told the class they would be using these characters to build dioramas recreating the images they see in splash pages.

“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Estafanie Quiruz, 10, one of Tandarich’s students. “You get to do your own comic characters and we get to read a lot of comic books. It’s much more fun than regular class.”



[another video still -- of the class]



[video - interview with schoolchildren]


Another student, Edward Areas, 10, said he agrees.

“It’s good because you get to read comic books and you get to do other projects that you don’t do in school usually,” he said.

Then there is Alberto Cruz, 10, who said comic books make him want to be a hero also.

“You can find out what you want to be in comic books,” said Cruz. “If you want to be a police officer or a fireman, you can find lots of things that can educate you.”


Even controversy over the current price of a comic being too much for a student is avoided. Similar to a library, Tandarich allows his students to sign-out comic books that have been donated by New York City comic shops, like Midtown Comics. The children use these comics for recreation and inspiration. At the end of the year, the comics are given to the children to maintain their interest and hopefully accomplish what Tandarich called “the whole point of this.”“I know from my own personal experience from reading all those comic books, it went into reading classic novels,” Tandarich said. “If they’re turned off [to reading] right away, then there’s more of a barrier to get to that classic novel down the line.”

back to the top



[photo still from video]